April 1st, 2011, marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. theatrical release of Amores Perros, the acclaimed and influential debut feature from Alejandro González Iñarritu that was hailed as "the first classic of the new decade, with sequences that will probably make their way into history" by Elvis Mitchell writing for The New York Times. Earlier this month the Tucson Cine Mexico festival hosted a special screening of Amores Perros at the historic Fox Theater (pictured) in downtown Tucson which was accompanied by a conversation with producer Martha Sosa moderated by Cinema Tropical's director Carlos A. Gutiérrez.
Martha Sosa (MS): Good evening everybody. Great to see our film packed with people.
CG: How did you get involved in the film? What was your personal story behind the film, how did you get to meet Alejandro González Iñárittu?
MS: We were trying to reach an audience. I was part of a group that dreamed to make films at a time that Mexican film production was almost a guerilla kind of endeavour, it was very difficult to make films. We were not filmmakers, actually this film made us filmmakers. And this includes the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, he had tried to make a mini-series and had been directing TV commercials. Guillermo Arriaga, the writer, also wanted to make films. I got involved with them because I admired Alejandro as a storyteller, he was a great DJ. We studied at the same university and I liked him, he's a very funny guy, intense but funny. I had heard that he wanted to start making films. We were looking for talent, we believed there were lots of stories, very important stories to be told in Mexico that could have also an international appeal, we have great storytellers in Mexico. I talked to Alejandro and convinced him that we were an option for his film, he says that I was very naive and that made him trust me. We also had great support from a very big entertainment group that was very corageous and also a bit crazy to put big money into these dreams. So Alejandro said "well these guys, they are naive and they have the money support, I might be going with them because I need people who would take huge risks." That's how I got involved.
CG: So the film is made, it premieres in Cannes in May 2000, it has an amazing critical at the festival where it wins an important prize, it's becomes a huge success in Mexico, it gets invited everywhere, the New York Film Festival, festivals around the world, it gets nominated for an Oscar, and it launches the international careers of Alejandro González Iñárritu, Guillermo Arriaga, Gael García Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Rodrigo Prieto...
MS: Brigitte Broch...
CG: ...it was such a catalyst for Mexican cinema. How do you responded to the success of the film?
MS: Carlos Hagerman, who I've worked with on his two films Those who remain and Back to Life, he once recommend me a book that argued that success is as dangerous as failure. Success was not a super fancy ride for us. We were at the time very immature and very young all. We were ambitious and we wanted this to happen, but we didn't have the tools at the time to understand what was really happening to us. I do believe the film is good and we made it with all our hearts. We put a lot of passion in it, we did very crazy things, took enormous creative risks, I mean a film with dog fights and there was no single actor that was known -this is Gael García Bernal's first film. We didn't know that we actually had a chance, and that's a very important word for me in the Amores Perros story. Because it is also a matter of chance, it is also that we got very lucky. There were only seven film chosen at the Critics Week at Cannes when we were invited, it is a very small section of the festival for first and second film directors. I learned later that the programmer had been fighting to get Christopher Nolan's Memento into the selection, but he didn't get it. So we got lucky, if that film would have been shown to the jury maybe they would have won the prize and not us. So it's not just about Amores Perros being such a great film, we also got lucky and that happened to us in every single step of the way. We got nominated for an Oscar, we worked for that of course, we tried to be professional, we worked with professionals, we had an amazing sales agent, a US sales agent that actually speaks Spanish, so we had meetings in Spanish, that is very lucky, because Hollywood people don't speak Spanish, so he actually understood the jokes in the film, the way we talked, the Mexican style and he was very patient with us, that is also very lucky.
CG: That's also very curious that film was released with its title in Spanish in the US: Amores Perros.
MS: Ah... "Amores Perros" (corrects pronunciation to Americanize it). We tried to look for a title, you know the English title is horrible, Love's a Bitch didn't work. We didn't find a title, we asked everyone, actors, friends, friends in the US, everybody said "Well why don't you use the original Amores Perros title? It's catchy", so it was decided to go with that. The sales agent looked for a brave distributor everywhere as nobody wanted to give us the chance we wanted. And I don't think at that time audiences were really ready for it in the US, I don't think that they were as open as they are now.
CG: It was Amores Perros the film that opened the door for this new wave of Latin American cinema ultimately.
MS: Of course we didn't know that at the moment. We said "Well, we're breaking ground, yes, but then what should we do? Should we hire a publicist?" How do you get away with showing your film in the US. You know for instance that many many Mexicans live in many many cities in the US, but where do they live? Where are the theaters that they go? Are we leaning towards that audience or do we want to show the film in arthouse cinema circuit. It was difficult to make a strategy and there was a huge risk of putting money into the prints and the advertising that was needed. But luckily we did a very good festival circuit that was really helped by you guys, you were really starting at that moment with Cinema Tropical, you helped us to show the film while we were launching it commercially, so that was also very lucky.
CG: It's 2011 and you've been very active, a vital force behind Mexican cinema. You and Yissel Ibarra co-produced a great documentary that is breaking records in Mexico Presunto Culpable. How do you see Mexican cinema ten years later?
MS: Well, Mexican cinema is very diverse. There's no one kind of Mexican cinema, there's lots of voices out there. For me the most interesting scene right now is in documentary filmmaking, that's why I'm so hooked now. And I'm also convinced that there are new audiences that really want to see documentary films in the theaters and luckily we are proving that with Presumed Guilty. I believe that is a very interesting scene in Mexico. It's also been helped by this very interesting tour made by Ambulante, that travels around many cities in Mexico in theaters and at universities showing only documentaries. Of course there are very interesting fiction films. Now we have tax incentives for films to get made, and that has a good and a bad part. The good part is that we have many options and the bad part is that there are many bad films been being made and sometimes that doesn't help a lot. So maybe we are making too much, too many and we should think about how to filter out the good projects. But anyway I think we are alive and that is what's important. Mexican films are alive, but they're mainly alive because we are getting to touch a real audience. That's why it's very exciting for me to be here, because you're real and you want to see Amores Perros again or for the first time. It gives me lots of hope and of course that all of my colleagues, such as you, keep betting on this. It's not the same to see a film here with everybody that to see it in on dvd at home, I mean this is the real thing.
Photos: The Fox Theater in downtown Tucson; Gael García Bernal as "Octavio" in Amores Perros; Producer Martha Sosa (center) with Tucson Cine Mexico organizers Julián Etienne and Vicky Westover.